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Arsenic as a cancer therapy?

If your doctor told you to open wide for your dose of arsenic, you might think about getting a new practitioner. But developmental biologist Philip Beachy, PhD, has shown that the notorious poison might be useful to treat a number of cancers that rely on a common cellular signaling pathway. The research was published (.pdf) yesterday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Of course, any cancer therapy that poisons the patient would naturally be frowned upon. And, truth be told, the arsenic likely wouldn't be given orally. The overall idea of arsenic on pharmacy shelves is not as far out as it might at first seem, though: it's been approved for years as a therapy for a specific type of leukemia. But these prior uses, one altruistic and one malevolent, differ in their mechanisms of action from that described by Beachy in his recent study. And this newest finding may give physicians the extra ammunition they need to prevent cancer cells from becoming resistant to therapy:

Many pharmaceutical companies are developing anticancer drugs to inhibit the Hedgehog pathway.However, these compounds target a component of the pathway that can be mutated with patients then becoming resistant to the therapy. Arsenic blocks a different step of the cascade.

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